Cody is standing in front of the blackboard, ready for his presentation. He waits for the class to quiet down, before he lifts up the first piece of cardboard that Zach has helped him decorate. "Okay, this is my family. It's a little different, so I'm going to explain it really carefully."
Zach was worried that Cody was going to be nervous about this, but the kid looks like he's right in his element, enjoying the attention.
Cody points down at the drawing and pictures at the top of the paper. "This is Jeanne and this is Roy, and they're my birth parents. Jeanne is my mom, and me and Zach went to visit her in Oregon last summer. We talk on the phone a lot, too... But Roy's not my dad anymore because he did drugs and went to prison."
Cody says it very matter-of-fact, and some of his class mates nod sagely. Mrs. Gonzales keeps a carefully blank expression, but, in the back of the room, Zach cringes and glares at Shaun who's trying hard not to laugh.
"Hey, don't blame me!" Shaun whispers, still struggling.
"You practiced the presentation with him."
"He didn't say it then!"
Lia, who's sitting in Shaun's lap, is blissfully oblivious. She is listening to Cody with rapt attention. Her big brother adoration is obvious: she's wide-eyed and open-mouthed, looking for all the world like she's witnessing the second coming, or something equally fantastic.
"Me and Jeanne and Zach and my poppy lived in San Pedro. But then Jeanne had to move away because Allan got a new job, and Zach and me had to move away because Zach found a boyfriend. And after we'd lived in Los Angeles for a while, Zach talked to Jeanne, and then Shaun and Zach adopted me and now they're my parents, and Zach is my dad."
Cody looks down at him, smiling widely. And dammit, Zach almost tears up, because the kid always sounds so pleased to be able to call him that. Shaun leans over slightly, and bumps his shoulder against Zach's.
Cody puts away his first piece of cardboard and holds up the other one that Zach helped him create: "And this is Lia and Charlie."
The picture Cody has chosen shows his smaller siblings right around the time Zach and Shaun became their foster parents, a year and a half ago.
Lia wriggles excitedly at the mention of her name. She’s looking up at Zach like, are you hearing this?
Cody holds up the cardboard so that everyone can see the pictures at the bottom, along with the illustrative arrows going back and forth between them, "And these two are their birth parents, Teena and George. But Teena and George aren't their mom and dad anymore because they did drugs, too."
Zach just -- he gives up; he has no clue how Cody picked up on that.
Shaun has to hide his face in Lia's mop of curly hair, shoulders shaking silently with laughter. Zach can feel the corners of his own mouth tugging upwards despite himself. He looks around the class room: All the kids are still listening intently, and Mrs. Gonzalez knows anyway because they had a talk with Charlie and Cody's primary teachers before they started school here.
"Lia and Charlie lived with some other people for a while, but now they live with us. Zach and Shaun were allowed to adopt them last year, so Zach and Shaun are our daddies, and we're a forever-family.”
Zach and Shaun's eyes meet. They made up that word to comfort Charlie, who was very scared, at the beginning, to be taken away. He isn't, anymore, but Charlie and Cody, who've both had a bit of a bumpy start with family life, have really latched onto the term.
“Charlie's six, so he's two years younger than me, and Lia's two, so they're my little brother and sister. Charlie likes to go surfing just like me, but he's not as good, yet, and Lia's too little. And next summer Shaun says we're gonna go to Spain because they have the best waves and they have an art museum in a city called Bilbao that Zach wants to see." Cody puts down his presentation, "... but I don't have pictures of that."
"Very good, Cody," Mrs. Gonzales stands up from her position on the floor, "Okay, any questions for Cody?"
There aren't, so Cody finds his seat under applause, and the next kid comes up to the blackboard to do her presentation. Zach stops listening, and just looks at Cody, at his bright blue t-shirt which is pulled loose around the neck, and the nape of his neck which is dark brown despite all the sunscreen. He feels relieved and proud, and a little silly for being so involved in a primary school presentation.
When the bell rings, all the parents sitting at the back are offered coffee and cake, which Zach, Shaun, Cody and Lia bring to the playground, to meet up with Charlie. Mal and Erin are there, with their kids, too. After Shaun's second book did well they decided to put the kids in the same private school that Mal and Erin had chosen for their girl, Freya.
"Just -- why should they have to deal with it now?" Shaun had said. "They're so small, and I just want them to have nice, peaceful years - they've been through enough turmoil as it is."
Two other kids in Cody's class have same-sex parents, and the school celebrates Gay and Lesbian Pride Day. Mal and Erin's girl Freya is in the same year as Cody. It's a safe and accepting environment, and sometimes Zach almost forgets what it can be like in other places, what it was sometimes like back in San Pedro. He knows he's fortunate that way.
Shaun is sitting next to him on a sun-warmed bench, blowing on his coffee and picking out the edible bits of Lia's abandoned piece of cake. Cody, Charlie and Freya are scaling the jungle gym and Lia is standing a little away, looking at the older kids with the fingers of one hand absently stuffed into her mouth.
"I can't believe he said that about the drugs." Zach looks at Charlie and Cody racing for the top in the monkey net.
"Hey, that was funny." Shaun is squinting against the sun to look at him, licking chocolate icing from his fingers.
Zach rolls his eyes. "You think everything he does is fantastic."
Shaun shrugs. "Well, it is," he agrees placidly.
"Mhm. It kind of is."
The bell rings and Charlie and Cody come over, with Lia tailing along. Shaun throws the rest of his coffee in the trash and slings the diaper bag over one shoulder. He lifts up Lia and slides her onto his hip. "Okay, kiddos. Time for us to get home...”
After the boys have gone back in, Zach picks up the two pieces of cardboard that Cody used for his presentation. He holds the top one out in front of himself. It has pictures, stickers, carefully traced text in different colors, and a border of glued-on glitter. Most of the other kids had a couple of pictures, or a drawing on a piece of printing paper.
"Did we overdo it? I think we overdid it."
"Maybe, but now Cody gets to be the kid with the cool family."
Zach looks up at Shaun. Lia is wiping her nose in his shirt. The diaper bag has pink ponies on it, and Shaun forgot to brush his hair this morning. Most days, this kind of scenario is second nature to Zach. But sometimes - in between Lia's reluctance to eat anything but bread, Charlie's initial clinginess, Cody growing out of his clothes from one day to the other, family trips, lunch boxes and diaper changes - it still hits him how much of a left turn his life has taken, and how much he enjoys it. He smiles, "Wow, look at us being Mr. and Mr. Middle Class America."
Shaun groans, "Don't! In my head, we're still urban bohemians, hip dudes..." He's talking over his shoulder, walking towards the parking lot, "Except, you know, we have three kids."
Zach shakes his head, laughing. He catches up with Shaun, and slings an arm around both him and Lia, "Alright, whatever you say... Let's get to our station wagon so we can get you home before The Cosby Show starts.”